Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Boko Haram challenge

Mass burial in Madalla
Late in December last year, a strong sense of bewilderment led me to digress from the issues I have substantially blogged about and to concentrate my commentaries on the new dimension that terrorism has assumed in Nigeria.  I did so for three key reasons – (1) As a Nigerian, I am enormously troubled by the fiefdom that the country is becoming as a result of the activities of some disgruntled elements in our midst.  (2)  I believe change only comes when those who earnestly desire it rise and demand it. We've seen the impact of the social media-fueled popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. (3) The Boko Haram bombings in the last few months particularly affected me given that some of my siblings died in Madalla.
Since that digression which was mainly prompted by the Christmas Day callous bombing at St Theresa Catholic Church, Madalla on the outskirts of Abuja, a lot of other bombings and gun attacks have taken place by the group which claimed responsibility for the despicable act – the Boko Haram sect. 
Woman who lost husband and kids in the bombing weeps
As I watched faces of family members and sympathizers that gathered  earlier today at Madalla for the mass burial of some of the victims of last Christmas bombing, I saw the same incomprehension that characterized my Christmas and New Year seasons. An almost identical sense of bewilderment must have struck many of them. Why would a human being - so called - kill other humans in this manner? The same sadness that characterized today’s mass burial ceremony in Madalla, would pervade Adazi Nnukwu, a small town in my home state Anambra where eleven of the over 20 people killed  last month at Mubi, Adamawa state will be buried tomorrow.
No doubt, these are very trying times for our dear country, Nigeria; what with the palpable state of insecurity, profound and debilitating economic challenges, disquieting political uncertainties and rising social tensions.  Of all its present challenges, I have maintained that the greatest of them all now, is the Boko Haram insurgence.  Reason – it threatens Nigeria’s very existence as a nation.
I have followed the many reports on the movement of southerners out of the north, and also the growing exodus of northerners from the south, particularly the east.  Many of these ‘Boko Haram returnees’ as they are now known in parts of the south, are people who have lived all their lives in the part of the country from where they are now fleeing.  There are also reports of Christians in the north now preferring to pray in their houses instead of going to church because of the fear of Boko Haram.  The truth remains, no nation can prosper under the kind of insecurity that now prevails in Nigeria.
A family member weeps during President Jonathan's visit
In my desire to lend my voice to the growing call for law and order in Nigeria, I have received comments and emails from different people including somebody who purports to speak for Boko Haram.  My position has been that Boko Haram goes beyond economics.  It goes beyond the poverty question.   Islamic fundamentalism is a completely reactionary ideology that seeks to turn the wheel of history backward to establish theocratic dictatorships.  It is officially intolerant of any other religion, enforcing a fanatically puritanical social order.
I share the belief that economics help to fuel it but not many poor people that I know would accept death as the alternative to their poverty, at least not Nigerians.  Many poor people crave to come out of their poverty and not to die in it.  Those who volunteer to do suicide bombing for Boko Haram and its likes, do so for reasons other than escaping poverty.
Fundamentalism the world over thrives on dogmas, religious indoctrination and the quest for political dominance.  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, popularly known as the ‘underwear bomber’ wasn’t poor in every sense of the word.  He comes from one of the richest families in Nigeria, just the same way Osama bin Laden came from one of Saudi Arabia’s richest oligarchy.  The same thing that inspired Osama inspired him. 
What the Boko Haram group asks is simply what Nigeria can’t give.   
Destruction in Kano
The survival of Nigeria as an entity anchors principally on the continued existence of the country as a secular state.   The battle before Nigeria today is more than a military one.  In the word of former American leader, it is a decisive ideological struggle. “On one side are those who believe in the values of freedom and moderation, the right of all people to speak and worship and live in liberty. And on the other side are those driven by the values of tyranny and extremism.” As we confront the unpleasantries that the Boko Haram group has brought upon us as a nation, we must as Nigerians say 'yes' to the dignity of human life, the right to agree and disagree without causing harm to those who oppose us, and freedom of expression and of religion. To do otherwise is to continue the descent to precipice.

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